Budget quandary faces Cayman
Staff vacancies in “front line” law enforcement-related positions are approaching critically low levels, Premier Alden McLaughlin told the Caymanian Compass Monday, revealing one of the major issues the territory must resolve prior to the introduction of its 2014/15 budget in the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. McLaughlin said the central government service has 174 “vacant” posts, meaning jobs that exist but for financial reasons cannot currently be filled. In addition to those positions, the civil service has made requests for an additional 17 new jobs, he said.
Among the current vacant positions are 70 posts in police, fire, customs and immigration, Mr. McLaughlin said.
“We’re already seeing the impact,” he said. “Customs officers available at the two ports [are] down from 30 to 19, so when [the press] asks why there hasn’t been better enforcement [at the ports of entry], these are some of the reasons.”
The premier’s comments refer to recent news of a string of drug busts at Owen Roberts International Airport over the long Easter holiday weekend. Customs officers made four drug seizures in four days, which equates to about one-third of the total number of drug seizures the agency reported there in the previous five years.
Also, a recently completed evaluation of the Cayman Islands Fire Service is expected to identify serious problems with staffing and overpayment of overtime because of the lack of staff.
“We have to look critically at what posts we can fill and when we can fill them,” Mr. McLaughlin said in discussing the government’s upcoming spending plans.
Meanwhile, a budget requirement from the United Kingdom for both the current fiscal year and the upcoming one seeks a reduction in expenses totaling $24 million. This means the Cayman Islands government will have to find ways to cut about $12 million in the 2014/15 budget.
“Something’s going to have to give, and the challenge over the next week or so, 10 days, is fixing that [gap],” the premier said. The Cayman Islands government budget has not gone to the United Kingdom for approval yet. It is expected to be presented to the Legislative Assembly in mid-May.
Outside help is on the way. The government has commissioned a private sector review by the local office of accounting firm Ernst & Young to produce recommendations on areas of government that can be combined and areas that might be outsourced to the private sector.
However, the premier confirmed Monday that the Ernst & Young review will not be finished in time to help the 2014/15 budget. Meanwhile, a review of Cayman’s Public Management and Finance Law, expected to be released shortly, will not lead to any legal changes that assist in the upcoming budget. The review is expected to recommend more shared or centralized services among government human resources functions, among other things.
“Those are not quick fixes,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “There’s a transition period for all of these things and changing course with a ship this size and the civil service culture is not easy.
“What has happened is, perhaps because they’re easy targets … austerity measures have actually impacted the front line services while, by-and-large, the administrative end is going largely untouched. We’ve got to change that equation.”
Talk of privatization of certain government functions has not been popular, the premier acknowledges. However, he said ministers will not be able to seriously discuss those matters until they receive the recommendations from Ernst & Young. He said steps toward privatizing some public sector functions do not necessarily equate to people losing their jobs.
“What we’re proposing is that … some functions which we believe are better or more efficiently performed by the private sector get hived off to the private sector, who will need personnel to do these things,” he said.
What has been ruled out for the 2014/15 budget is the restoration of a 3.2 percent pay rise that was first given to the civil service in 2008, then taken away, then granted back, then taken away again.
“We’ve already told the [civil service], it’s not going to happen in this budget,” Mr. McLaughlin said.